Death of a Princess

Xaye cala salaa
Come to prayer
Xaye cala falaax
Come to salvation
I can’t remember
which prayer time it was
but I had to answer.
It may be the way of this world
beneath the witness of the stars
but last night I was told,
‘They gorged on clotted blood.’
The earth there is dry and gleaming
scraped smooth
like camel fat.
All the goats and sheep
have grazed the land bare.
The place is ridden with ticks,
a desert where no-one can rest,
a scrubland sitting on oil;
floods of people with guns
and without restraints
surround it.
The place is duned,
with a humid wind;
it is, perhaps, the hottest time.
It is also cities
sprouting skyscrapers
which exhaust the eye,
furnished and fringed
with damask and silk;
they eavesdrop on air’s gossip.
This is where those responsible
hoard their possessions.
Rivers flow within that land
waters of the Holy Places
and whisky foam
and froth up there.
The place is misery itself,
women burdened with children
hawking and gasping,
bearers and bricklayers
ground down and harassed.
My first quarter is done.
Look still more closely:
see our young woman, Xiis,
wholesome as a honeycomb,
born within the pale.
Like the choicest virgin mare,
she isn’t bridled for
some camel raid, nor
a share of the loot.
She is Heaven’s eye, a houri;
she is the sun, sharing
the horizon with the moon
who last night guarded the earth
and this morning passes on
his watch, elegantly
drawing back the hem,
the membrane of the sky
like closed curtains.
He paints the dawn sky
as she rises in her urgency
with the fletches on the arrows
of the morning’s rays.
And she, in this flirtation,
because of his caresses,
these delicate advances,
lets herself be roused.
In her fever and her heat,
her rising and ripping,
self-consuming passion,
she throws off her clouds
and stands, the length of a forearm
from the horizon. Can you see
her whip-lithe limbs?
If I’ve failed
then ask her to forgive me.
* * *
Dearly-missed, our Xiis
was a navel to the river
of the people; she was part of them,
but penned in scrubland,
and fenced in the pen,
she did not have to see
that season which sears the trees,
feel its harshness or its heat.
Only once did she break out
only once feel the freedom
of transgressing their strictures.
It was said of Eve that she
cut the rope that bound her,
breached her limits.
And so she tore the silk off
that used to cover the hole
in which the rat eats
afterbirth and blood clots,
deliberately exposing
its shameful weaknesses,
its irresponsibilities:
she set them out one by one.
That tree, the twigs
and dry branches of which were kindling,
the dead leaves a fuel
which used to threaten fire,
she confirmed to the people
as hollow, a tree
of poisonous resin.
She disclosed our strongest feelings,
that intense intimacy of love,
which enters into us all;
she longed for her elegant boy
who swept her away;
by not closing off
her clean desires,
she refused stability.
She didn’t consider how,
betrothed through obligation,
she was another man’s wife;
nor took into account
that place she came from,
nor, poor girl,
the law that holds sway there.
* * *
As this liaison continued
it went beyond whispers.
As soon as the secret was out
the family of that princess,
those wrong-doers,
grew wrathful;
that gluttonous House
got angry.
That gifted girl
was found guilty of what?
Love that was tethered to
‘the branch with short roots
that can’t reach the heights;
the wild choice
of the wrong ram’ –
so they threw her in jail.
Then, although no-one tried her,
that Holy Place of love
which was a seat for
her clean heart,
that shrine to passion
was opened by a bullet.
This is how it was told:
she and the boy she loved
were cut down
and put in their graves.
If you only remember one thing
about this story, let it be this:
the place is Hijaz,
the centre of the divine revelation,
destination of the hajj;
it is the navel of the Prophet,
where the Beloved of God was born.